… where Helen Gurley Brown gives wardrobe advice to the Mad Men generation.
Gurley Brown’s book Sex and the Single Girl was first published in 1962, before she became editor of US Cosmopolitan. A self-help book before self-help books became fashionable, one of the first of its kind to be turned into a movie, Gurley Brown’s semi-biographical classic is often considered a feminist milestone.
It has however not necessarily aged well. Some of her suggestions could now be considered downright injurious, not to mention bad advice. More than a few of them would probably be accepted as evidence by a jury in case of sexual harassment.
In chapter 10, Gurley Brown advises her readers on how to put together the best wardrobe, with a minimum of funds. Reading it, I had Joan in mind:
But how about men? Shouldn’t you dress to please them?
One of the best ways not to, in my opinion, is to let them get into the act. Why is it assumed just because a man is a man he knows what you should wear? Do you tell him what to look for in a car? - a subject on which he is undoubtedly more knowledgeable than you.
She is a strong advocate of taking inspiration from fashion magazines, of following fashion, at least in skirt length and jumper colour, of “copycating a mentor with better taste than yours” and of picking labels you know you can always trust.
Most of her suggestions are common sense, and because her book was aimed to outlast trends, she gives no direction on how to pick a Betty-worthy full skirt. It is a good vintage book read, to enjoy with a dry-martini and a hot bath.
Title from Mad Men season 2, episode six, Maidenform. Of course, pronouced by Joan to Peggy.
Gurley Brown, H., Sex and the Single Girl (1962, new edition 2003) Barricade Books, pp.186-202